Alberto Contador (Astana) is set to win the Giro d?Italia in Milan on Sunday after comfortably defending his pink jersey during the final mountain stage over the Passo Gavia and the Passo del Mortirolo on Saturday.
After the attacks by Danilo Di Luca (LPR) and Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) on Friday, Contador was under intense pressure but never seemed in trouble and followed a perfect race strategy.
Going in to the stage, Ricco was only four seconds behind overall and Di Luca was at 21 but the big-mouthed Italian failed to land a knockout punch on the Mortirolo and Di Luca was dropped and did not get back on during the final 50km to the finish in Tirano. Di Luca finished 5-27 behind stage winner Emanuele Sella (CSF Navigare), and Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) moved up to take his third place in the overall classification, two minutes behind Ricco and Contador.
NO MAJOR ATTACKS ON THE GAVIA AND MORTIROLO
The Gavia and the Mortirolo were the last chance for Ricco and Di Luca to attack but both disappointed and were clearly tired after their efforts 24 hours earlier.
The leaders climbed the Gavia together as Julio Perez Cuapio (CSF Group) went on the attack alone. The summit was covered by low cloud and snow lined the roadside, but the dramatic scenes of 1988, when Andy Hampsten set up overall victory, were only a fading memory. As a result the Cima Coppi ?the highest climb of the 2008 Giro had little effect on this year?s race.
Ricco tried several short-lived accelerations on the Mortirolo but he not on a good day and Contador and other riders, easily got on his wheel. A group of six riders rode to the summit together and Di Luca was the only big-name contyender who failed to get back on the descent.
The final fast climb to Aprica and the descent to Tirano became a battle for the stage victory.
Emanuele Sella produced another late attack and escaped from the leaders, opening a 1-04 gap to win his third mountain stage at the Giro. His success was a reply to the accusation of Ricco that he worked for Contador during Friday?s stage.
Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) finished second after chasing Sella for 30km in one last attempt to win a stage in probably hi last Giro.
Contador comfortably controlled Ricco behind, letting Bruseghin lead the chase as the Lampre rider battled to set up a possible third place in Milan. Contador let fellow Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse D?Epargne) go off the front on the descent so that he could take the eight-second time bonus and stop Ricco taking the pink jersey.
Ricco claimed the Giro is not over until after the time trial on Sunday and Contador refused to say he had won the maglia rosa but the Spaniard is set to extend his lead on Ricco during the flat and fast 28.5km time trial to Milan.
CONTADOR: “I RACED DEFENSIVELY AND USED MY HEAD”
?I am very happy how things are now. To wear the pink jersey on the last day of the race and be about to win the Giro is amazing. It?s something that was unimaginable a month ago,? Contador said.
?I never really thought it was possible to win the Giro. I was at home when the team called to tell me I was riding. I wasn?t convinced that riding the Giro was the right thing to do, but my pride helped me and pushed me on every day. I didn?t climb one mountain before I came here and I had to try to do the best I could with the form I had. I rode defensively and use my head.?
After 20 stages of racing at the Giro, the only question now left unanswered is how much Contador will win by and who will finish third.
Contador?s final winning margin is likely to be over a minute, while Bruseghin is favourite to finish a surprise third place.
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008 STAGE 20: RESULTS
1. Emanuele Sella (Ita) CSF Navigare
2. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Diquigiovanni-Androni at 1min 4secs
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne at 1min 22secs
4. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval at 1min 30secs
5. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
6. Antonio Colom (Spa) Astana
7. Fortunato Baliani (Ita) CSF Navigare
8. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre
9. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Ag2r
10. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas all at same time.
41. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 15min 28secs
74. David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 35min 20secs
123. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld at 37min 19secs
125. Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road
135. Bradley Wiggins (GB) High Road all at same time.
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 20
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
2. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval at 4secs
3. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre at 2min
4. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas at 2min 5secs
5. Emanuele Sella (Ita) CSF Navigare at 2min 35secs
6. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 2min 47secs
7. Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR at 4min 18secs
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence-Lotto at 4min 26secs
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) CSF Navigare at 5min 25secs
10. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Diquigiovanni-Androni at 6min 40secs
69. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 2hours 21min 4secs
95. David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 2hours 56min 47secs
97. Steve Cummings (GB) Barloworld at 3hours 50secs
118. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld at 3hours 23min 38secs
133. Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road at 3hours 54min 26secs
134. Bradley Wiggins (GB) High Road at 3hours 58min 18secs
Charly Wegelius out on the Gavia
David Millar on stage 20
The awesome Gavia
Grin when you’re winning: Alberto Contador
Riccardo Ricco (r) couldn’t do enough to take the race lead
Astana drive the pace up the Gavia
All photos by Graham Watson
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE REPORTS
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES